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Why Significance is (Not-So) Serious Business

This week, the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast is continuing to explore the shift from success to significance. It’s a great two-part series, so I hope you’ll take some time to listen. While we’re on the topic of success to significance, I want to pause for a moment to talk about one of the essentials for making that shift successfully:

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

I mean it. Take every possible moment you get to laugh at yourself along the way. In an age where so much is demanded of leaders, the call to perpetual gravitas is something every leader should seek to avoid.

Personally, I love to laugh. I don’t take myself too seriously because I’m well-acquainted with my own faults and follies. And that’s as it should be—because my staff knows my faults and follies too!

I’ve often told younger leaders that it’s good to admit your mistakes, just so your team knows you’re aware of them too. The same goes for laughing at yourself—you might as well join in with everyone else who’s chuckling at you.

It’s no stretch to say we live in a highly self-obsessed culture. I’d say self-centered, but what we’re experiencing today goes beyond that term. We’re as absorbed in our own worlds, our own thoughts, and our own feelings as I can remember—and I lived through the 60s, 70s, and 80s!

This self-obsession produces a lot of unpleasant things: polarization; online trolling; the demonization of anyone who doesn’t agree with our points of view. People are retreating to echo chambers where they don’t have to deal with anything that upsets their personal philosophical bubble.

It’s making leadership in this day and age a bit more challenging. Juggling so many different (and seemingly incongruent) perspectives is a tall task.

Many leaders are taking a stand on the political issues of their choice. Some, like my friend Ed Bastian, are taking stands on principles and values. Regardless, one thing is certain: people are looking to leaders to show the way towards purpose.

We’re a world craving significance. And we need good leaders to take us there.

But on our way to a higher calling, let’s not neglect our need for humor. There are several benefits to being a laughing leader:

1. It’s Authentic

No one can be serious all the time. I love to poke fun at myself. I’m 72 and I have a long track record as a leader—and I intend to keep it going! I travel, I speak, I write books, and I keep a steady pace with all of those things, which often prompts people to ask me, “John, how do you do it all?”

And I just smile and say, “Simple. High energy. Low IQ.”

There are so many moments in life when laughter is simply the appropriate response for the circumstances. But beyond that, the ability to laugh at yourself is also a sign of self-awareness, which is a great guard against self-obsession.

2. It’s Healthy

The old saying that “laughter is the best medicine” has more than a little truth to it. Workplaces that embrace laughter have higher rates of productivity, and leaders who can chart the course (in a healthy way) reap the benefits.

Laughter also helps reduce stress and increase camaraderie, which can transform an office culture. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic says that laughter produces long-term health benefits like an improved immune system, pain relief, increased personal satisfaction, and an improved mood.

3. It’s Helpful

In his The Mysterious Stranger, author Mark Twain wrote, “For [the human] race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter…Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.”

I believe that connection is essential for leaders if they want to communicate well, and one of the shortest paths to connection is well-timed humor. When we can laugh, and get others involved, it helps us establish common ground—and might just lead us to discover far more in common than we believed possible.

*****

There are still common-sense rules for humor within your team: know that you need permission, know and respect individual senses of humor, know and keep healthy boundaries. Your job is to lead, not to be the office stand-up act.

But as you lead people towards the high calling of significance, don’t forget to lead them to laugh along the way. I love how my friend Kevin Myers puts it at his church, 12Stone: “We take our mission seriously, but not ourselves.”

May the same be true for all of us who are called to lead.

7 Comments

  1. khaya booi on May 7, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    This is true laughter is the best weapon for health and it brings production indeed, Thank very much Dr John Maxwell.

  2. Luz on May 7, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Gracias x hacerme recordar Dr. Jhon Maxwell
    Que reír es la mejor forma de demostrar que estamos vivos.

  3. Unique on May 8, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    Am inspired by that quote…. Learn to take your mission seriously and not your self.

  4. SJ on May 13, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    I’ve been studying John and other leadership mentors since 1995, and now I am passing on these life-changing lessons to a segment of the population that desperately needs them. Thank you, John…

  5. Stephen Paul Gazama on May 16, 2019 at 6:23 am

    Laughter and a good sense of humor is a valuable tool when it comes to connecting with people on one-on-one, in group, or with an audience. Mentor John taught me that great lesson some years ago in his book Everyone Communicate Few Connect. And I’ve proven that to be true times without number. IN HIS WORDS: “No matter who you are or with whom you are trying to communicate, you can improve your ability by smiling at people and being expressive. Even if you work in a tough environment or staid corporate culture, you don’t have to maintain a grim visage all the time” [page 57]. I LOVE YOU JOHN.

    • Stephen Paul Gazama on May 16, 2019 at 6:36 am

      Laughter and a good sense of humor is a valuable tool when it comes to connecting with people, whether on one-on-one, in a group, or with an audience. That’s a great lesson I learned from John through his book Everyone Communicate Few Connect[pages 56 and 57]. I LOVE YOU JOHN.

  6. Stephen Paul Gazama on May 16, 2019 at 6:44 am

    True, this resonates with what I learned from John in Everyone Communicate Few Connect. Connecting with others has much to do with laughter or a good sense of humor.

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